(2007) Gary Gibson, Tor UK, £10.99, trdpbk, 489pp, ISBN 978-1-405-0-9189-3
This is Gibson's third novel, though it is the one being billed as his 'breakout book' -- I am not sure what that actually means; it is always seemed to me to mean 'this is the one we can be bothered to put our publicity machine behind so that it actually has a chance of selling', but maybe I am just being cynical? Anyway... Over half a millennium from now an alien race called the Shoal have (at least in our galaxy) a monopoly on faster-than-light travel. I am giving nothing away (not least because the info is on the back cover blurb and in the third chapter of the book) when I say that there is more than a strong possibility that the Shoal stole this technology from another alien race at least 160,000 years ago and, furthermore, that they committed genocide in order to do so (which information is not known to the human race in the book, nor is it widely known among the Shoal themselves). All client races within the galaxy, humans included, are therefore dependent on the Shoal for exploration and the maintenance of contact with their colonies, not to mention interstellar trade. The humans are run by the Consortium, though there are offshoot factions on colony worlds of their own, often religiously motivated groups such as the Freeholders and the Uchidans. The Shoal grant the colony licenses, but these agreements have a clause which allow the Shoal to move any client race from a colony within 20 years of its establishment. They almost never invoke this clause, but relatively recently (from the perspective of the 'present' of this book) they moved a bunch of Uchidans to a Freehold world which, of course, then went to war with each other. Dakota Merrick is a Consortium pilot and a veteran of this war; she is also guilty of a war crime massacre, along with her fellow 'machine heads', when her implants were subverted by the Uchidans which resulted in a slaughter of innocent refugee Freeholders. Now, years after this incident, Merrick is hired by Freeholders to be taken to a world where they have discovered a ship, not of Shoal origin, that seems capable of FTL travel. Can it belong to the lost race of 'Magi' from the Magellanic Clouds, and what caused the closely grouped set of supernovas in the clouds 160,000 years ago...?
OK, good point first: this is a very well-written book that draws the reader along at the proverbial cracking pace; good characters, good aliens and, for the most part, good plot. Which leads us to the bad point: given the above rough outline, do you really not know why those suns went nova? In which case, read the book and let it come as a surprise to you. If you do know, read the book anyway, there are still some things I have not mentioned which -- while they are not terribly original in and of themselves -- at least add further depth and interest to the novel. The ending seems a bit rushed -- a failing of Gibson's previous offerings -- but there is enough space opera-esque gosh-wow here to satisfy those whose tastes run that way. Call it a guarded recommendation, if you must but, hey, at least it is a recommendation...
Another review of Stealing Light can be found here.
For a review of Gary Gibson's Against Gravity see here.
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